Kline more relaxed in Baltimore

Re-Kline: Reliever getting comfortable with O's

BALTIMORE -- It's not that Steve Kline has stopped talking. His naturally personable nature and a non-stop motor won't allow him to do that.

While a reporter interviewed B.J. Ryan on Wednesday in the reliever's corner of the Orioles' clubhouse, Kline was gyrating behind him, trying to distract Ryan. He did, and Ryan grinned with a sense of disbelief as he answered the questions.

Kline is slowly meshing into the Orioles' clubhouse fabric after a major hiccup last month when he told a St. Louis reporter that he wished he were back with the Cardinals. When he made those comments from his St. Petersburg, Fla., hotel room, Kline was hurting. He was struggling on the mound, in a strange city that was not on the usual National League circuit and he missed his teammates and previous surroundings.

Kline had pitched two games in Baltimore when he made his comments. He had yet to feel the fans' adulation and appreciation.

"The whole conversation was not supposed to be anything but positive," he said. "It was supposed to be a positive thing, a St. Louis thing. I would never bash Baltimore. I used to come to games at old Memorial Stadium, I understand what the people here are about."

In his first game back to Camden Yards after his comments, Kline was booed. And he fully understood the fans' sentiments. The perception was that he turned his back on team that paid him handsomely to come here and help a potential playoff run.

The perception was that Kline was pining for another team and Baltimore fans have had enough of that over the past generation. Baltimore is a working-class city with that has a great deal of civic pride, but athletes such as John Elway and Terrell Owens have flat-out stated that they didn't want to play in the Charm City even before they ever spent a day here.

"I know I will be hanging by the thread with the people," he said. "If I pitch good, they will be rooting for me. If I go out and give it up and lose some games, I might hear some things. But I don't blame them. I put myself in this hole. I will pitch, try to do my best and keep my mouth shut so I don't say anything stupid again."

Kline's attitude and outlook has improved dramatically over the past three weeks because he has returned to his vintage form. He hasn't allowed a run in his past six appearances and has struck out nine batters in that span.

Interim bullpen coach Steve McCatty, who served that role in the past three weeks in Elrod Hendricks' absence, noticed that Kline's left index finger was misplaced on the ball and it was altering his command.

Kline was being apprehensive with the surgically repaired finger because he pitched with a torn tendon in the final weeks of last season for St. Louis.

"I think Steve has gotten comfortable in his new surroundings and is pitching well, like we expected," manager Lee Mazzilli said. "I just think he was pressing in the early going. It's difficult to go to a new team when all you know is the team you left. It's definitely not easy."

Everyday life had not been kind to Kline early in the year as he has tried to adjust to Baltimore. He and his wife endured some personal problems that caused him to miss a game in Boston. When he returned to the club for the second game of the series, several teammates patted him on the back or joked to lighten the mood.

His comments just two weeks previous suddenly were a distant memory. Kline was an Oriole.

"We all make mistakes and say things we wished we hadn't said," Ryan said. "But Kliner is a good guy and a great pitcher. We all can learn from him in here and we have embraced him because he is one of us."

While his coaches and teammates realize that Kline has a bubbly personality to say the least, he swears he can emerge as a man of the people in Baltimore. Before the April 15 game with the Yankees, the first home game since his comments, Kline participated in a ceremony commemorating Jackie Robinson Day.

He is constantly chattering with fans in the bullpen, signing autographs and volunteering for community service programs. But he doesn't want that to be publicized. It's one of the rare things he'd rather do in anonymity.

Give him a chance, Kline says, and he can truly be a man of the people. "I am starting to feel my groove here now," he said. "We're in first place and that's a big plus. The guys have been great, I have a great time just getting out there and goofing off with them. Pretty soon, I'll start goofing off with the fans. Some times you'll hear one or two fans yell something to put you in a crappy mood. But that's what I have to deal with. Most of the people have been real supportive. One or two guys might tell you what they think, but fans have been real good."

Gary Washburn is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.